On Thursday, the General Assembly elected 14 members to its top human-rights body, the U.N. Human Rights Council. U.N. human-rights policymakers now include Libya, Angola, Malaysia, Qatar, and Uganda. On a secret ballot, a whopping 155 countries, or 80 percent of U.N. members, thought Libya would be a great addition.
Obama’s diplomats, sitting in the General Assembly Hall throughout the election, made no attempt to prevent the farce or even to object. On the contrary, Ambassador Susan Rice left the hall before the results were announced in order to hightail it to the microphone. Attempting to spin what was a foregone conclusion, she refused to divulge those states which the U.S. supported. When pressed, she said only that the Obama administration regretted some states on the ballot, but “I am not going to name names. I don’t think that it’s particularly constructive at this point.”
Not constructive because, Rice suggested, it was no big deal. She described the countries on the Council — which include human-rights experts Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba in addition to the incoming freshman class — as just “countries whose orientation and perspectives we don’t agree with.” And later on she described the election as one which “yielded an outcome that we think is a good reflection on the potential of the Human Rights Council.”
Rice was also asked to defend last month’s deal, made with the help of the Obama administration, which saw Iran withdraw its candidacy for the Council in exchange for a seat on the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). With no apparent sign of embarrassment, she responded that Iran had been on the CSW before, so it “was not something new.”
The results mean that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has tightened its grip on the Human Rights Council. OIC states garnered 70 percent of the seats allotted to each of the African and Asian regional groups, the two blocs that together form the Council majority. The number of fully free democracies went down and stands below 50 percent.
The whole election was in fact a charade — or, as Ambassador Rice described it euphemistically after leaving early, “there is not a great deal of suspense.” The number of open seats for the Council equalled the number of candidates. Nevertheless, according to the rules, candidates could have been defeated if they had failed to garner 97 votes — a majority of Assembly members.
Rice’s remarks made it clear, however, that the Obama administration is heavily invested in propping up the U.N. as a serious place to protect rights, prevent nuclear nonproliferation, and deal with Iran. That’s why it failed to lift a finger to try to influence the vote on Thursday.
The fiction of a credible human-rights body suits the president’s foreign policy just fine. It explains his decision last year to join the Council and to pick up 22 percent of the tab. The fact that the Council’s main priority is to demonize Israel and keep the spotlight off abominations around the world has had no impact on Obama’s calculations.
The Council was established in 2006 as a reform of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The membership of the old Commission had made it a laughing-stock, so the Bush administration demanded that there be serious qualifications to join the new Council. No one else but a handful of states, such as Israel, agreed. Left out in the cold, these states voted against the General Assembly resolution that created the Council, while the rest made one promise about membership. The resolution declared that when electing members, the General Assembly “shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto.”
The consequence of a U.N. commitment? Uganda and Qatar were elected pledging nothing at all. And two days before the election, Libya, Malaysia, and Angola sent in voluntary pledges.
Here is what got Libya elected: “The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights. . . . [T]he improvement of prisons’ conditions is part of a national advanced programme that ensures the training of judicial police officers in respect of human rights. . . . The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya offers . . . the independence and neutrality of the judge. . . . The existing law on prisons . . . is one of the most modern laws in the world. . . . No individual is accepted into prison without a judicial decision. . . . The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya pays great attention to women and children. . . . This consideration stems primarily from Islamic Sharia, which dignifies women, elevates their status and promotes their rights.”
A glance at the 2009 State Department Human Rights Report indicates that Libya mysteriously neglected to mention a few things about what Ambassador Rice would call its “orientation and perspectives”: Security personnel engage in routine torture and abuse of detainees and have the authority to sentence the political opposition without trial; the law sanctions amputation and flogging; President Qadhafi can interfere with judges at will; and women and girls may be detained indefinitely after having been raped for violating moral codes.
Candidate Angola told U.N. members about the glories of its “democratic state of law” and “inalienable rights and freedoms,” and somehow omitted that government security forces are engaged in torture, arrest and harass NGOs, intimidate journalists, and monitor internet chat rooms.
Malaysia crowed that they “actively seek to promote and protect human rights” and “archaic law” “may be repealed.” Left on the cutting-room floor, as the State Department report points out, was any mention of religious authorities who arrest and detain “members of groups deemed deviationist in order to rehabilitate deviants and return them to the ‘true path of Islam.’”
In the end, nothing said or left unsaid made any difference. Not to the U.N. and not to President Obama. In a very dangerous state of affairs, the pretence of a legitimate U.N. Human Rights Council is politically advantageous both to Islamic states seeking to delegitimize and destroy the Jewish state and to the Obama administration.